Standards in Science and Technology Studies
Joseph C. Pitt, Virginia Tech
(Editor’s Note: Joe Pitt was kind enough to allow two replies to his article. Please see both ‘Normativity and Nostalgia: A Reply to Pitt’, James H. Collier and ‘Right Thinking for Right Science? On the Pitt-Collier Exchange Over the Purpose of STS’, Adam Riggio.)
In the 1660’s living in Altdorf, Gottfried von Wilhelm Leibniz, later credited as the co-inventor of the calculus with Isaac Newton, was a newly minted Doctor of Laws. Seeking intellectual stimulation, he went to visit some scholars in Nuremburg, who told him about a secret society of alchemists who were seeking the Philosopher’s Stone. 
Leibniz decided to profit from this opportunity and to learn alchemy, but it was difficult to become initiated into its mysteries. He proceeded to read some alchemical books and put together the more obscure expressions – those he understood the least. He then composed a letter that was unintelligible to himself and addressed it to the director of the secret society, asking that he be admitted on the basis of his great knowledge, of which the letter was proof. According to the story, no one doubted that the author of the letter was an adept alchemist or almost one; he was received with honor into the laboratory and was asked to take over the functions of secretary. He was even offered a pension. (Ariew, 1995 P.21)
It may be a bit of a stretch to see Leibniz as the 17th century Sokal – but the parallels are worth pointing out, even if the situation is reversed. Although Leibniz is known for the mathematical, philosophical and scientific work he produced later, at this point in time he is a humanist playing a hoax on the alchemists who can, with a gentle nod, be viewed as proto-scientists. Sokal played a hoax on the social scientists/literary theorists. What kind of a hoax? In 1992, Alan Sokal the physicist submitted a paper entitled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” to Social Text, a journal for social and political scholarship. Using the trendy jargon of literary postmodernism and social constructivism he allegedly analyzed recent developments in quantum gravity showing that
In quantum gravity,…, the space-time manifold ceases to exist as an objective physical reality; geometry becomes relational and contextual; and the foundational conceptual categories of a prior science – among them, existence itself — become problematized and relativized. (Sokal, 1996a, p. 218)
Later, he published a letter in Lingua Franca admitting that “Transgressing the Boundaries “ was a hoax.
The Sokal Affair elicited a far more intense reaction than one might have expected. Hoaxes are generally the source of amusement when they are part of the history of science, let’s see how much fun we can have with this one. However, there was little public laughter. The mood quickly turned ugly. This otherwise minor episode has had far reaching consequences, causing many people to worry about the development of a widening breach between the world of science studies and the world of science. There is in fact something of a breach developing, and to the extent that there is a growing breach between these two communities, it is the fault of individuals in both groups.
We need to acknowledge from the start that the STS community does contain practitioners who display a certain ideological bent that, on the surface, fails to meet the standards of objective scholarship, at least the standards some physical scientists would like to advance. In addition, these STSers produce arguments that constitute attacks on the epistemically privileged status of scientific knowledge, hence. on the epistemically privileged status of science, and thus they are perceived as anti-science, which some are. On the other hand, the scientific community has been, and continues to be, notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to critical scrutiny by non-scientists. While the scientific community may very well be reasonable when reacting this way in days of decreasing public support for scientific research, it surely cannot expect to be completely immune from criticism. Further, while it is also the case that there is no monolithic STS community, I will argue, the research standards within at least one STS community do in fact not only meet the criteria most scientists endorse, but, seen from a slight distance, resemble the research process that science itself seems to exhibit. Below I will give examples of this kind of work.
I will start with the Sokal Affair and offer a diagnosis of the underlying cause of the bitterness of the debate. I will then draw a distinction between two different types of STS agendas, Science and Technology Studies versus Science, Technology and Society. Finally, I want to make the case for doing Science and Technology Studies in a particular way – that is, to seek to understand science in its historical context as a social process whose domain is the real world. The goal is understand science, not to offer adulation or condemnation. The criterion for success in doing STS this way is to produce a story that meets the standard of explanatory coherence. But first we seek some understanding of the nature of the debate that has lead to the current view of STS as anti-science.
The debate between the scientific community and the STS community is a debate about standards. While the debate actually began in earnest with the publication of Higher Superstition by Gross and Levitt, let us take the Sokal Affair as our starting point. The Spring/Summer issue of Social Text, which was devoted to a discussion of what had come to be called by its editors “the Science Wars” (referring to the furor raging around Higher Superstition), contained an unsolicited, but refereed article by the physicist Alan Sokal. It was conceived, in the author’s words, as
a modest (though admittedly uncontrolled) experiment: Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies -whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross – publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions. (Sokal, 1996b, p.62)
In the Lingua Franca piece cited above, Sokal confessed that “the article was written as a parody” and he proceeded to point out the bad reasoning and the “silliness” (his word) of his own contribution. He goes on to claim that “Social Text’s acceptance of my article exemplifies the intellectual arrogance of Theory – postmodernist literary theory, that is – carried to its logical extreme.” (p. 63) Lingua Franca not only printed Sokal’s “confession” but invited responses, one of which was from the editors of Social Text with a response to them by Sokal. This was followed by much written fury on both sides, including letters in the New York Times, a letter to the New York Review by Steven Weinburg and responses to that. In 1998, special sessions have been held on the topic at the Philosophy of Science meetings in Cleveland and in Atlanta at the History of Science meetings.
So what exactly is this all about? The antagonism and polarization brought about by the publication of Sokal’s parody cannot be explained merely by way of the fact that the paper was a hoax. Nor does the heat in the discussion come from Sokal’s charge of intellectual incompetence directed at post-modernist practitioners, strong as it was. No, I think the intensity of this discussion derives from something deeper. The source of the argument in the first place, and the rancor it has produced, in the second place, comes not so from the charge of incompetence, for one can be serious and incompetent and sustain a charge of this sort and not generate a battle of this kind. Sokal’s most critical charge here is that there is a lack of seriousness on the part of literary theory types and anyone else who endorses relativism and subjectivity. Let us refer to the whole gang as the postmodernists. Despite the fact that Sokal tends to lump together everyone who rejects realism as the enemy, we can understand some of the depth of his concern when we realize that he isn’t just worried about lack of argument and standards and rigor. He seems to be most concerned about the real world consequences of adopting a constructvist or subjectivist, or deconstructivist or anyone of these positions. Hear him:
Theorizing about “the social construction of reality” won’t help us find an effective treatment for AIDS or devise strategies for preventing global warming. Nor can we combat false ideas in history, sociology, economics, and politics if we reject the notions of truth and falsity. (p.64)
Contra Sokal, it is important to distinguish among the various different positions that are the target of his wrath. However, it is not necessary for our purposes today. Even without doing so we can still understand the source of his anger.
But we need to issue some cautions as well. Sokal needs to expand on the charge of lack of seriousness on the part of those he attacks. Not everyone he lumps together takes the trendy literary criticism attitude that we must all be cute and that the point of everything is to upstage someone else and to make in-jokes to humiliate your opponents. Most constructivist sociologists are very serious about their work. However, maybe Sokal is not concerned about how serious the postmodernists are about their own work, but rather, how serious are they about his work? If that is his worry, then he should reconsider. While it is true that an attack on the objectivity of science in general tends to put the work of individual scientists in jeopardy, one cannot read every such piece of analysis as a personal insult. To impugn the integrity of those who seek to produce an argument which you dislike is itself to reject the very cannons of objectivity and rationality Sokal purports to uphold. If the motives of the postmodernists are suspect, it must be proven; it is not enough to throw out insults. Furthermore, Sokal’s offer of the paper in Social Text as evidence for the sloppiness of all literary theory types fails to meet his own criteria for adequate support for a hypothesis. How many reputable scientists would accept the viability of a hypothesis on the basis of one experiment?
However, to suggest that Sokal has inadequate evidence to support his charge is not to excuse the postmodernists. Whatever their shortcomings, Gross and Levitt have amassed enough data to at least justify an inquiry. But just as I object to Sokal’s use of one “experiment” to support his outrage, I object to Gross and Levitt’s selective use of the data. I will return to this point later.
Just as we can understand, if not approve of Sokal’s anger, we can also appreciate the intensity of the response from the other side. Through the various articles and letters, one general attitude seemed to stand out by those offended by the scientists, represented by Sokal. It goes something like this – “you scientists are preaching to us about the standards of good science and the value of truth and falsity and you don’t seem to realize that you have lost that battle, those ideas have been undermined, discredited and rejected. That being the case, on the basis of what authority do you attack us? The epistemic authority of science is no longer acknowledged. You express and defend just one point of view among others, all equally valid – see Kuhn, Bloor, Bijker, Harding, etc.”
The heat is generated on one side by scientists who are defending truth, beauty and the American way, and, on the other side, by a group of scholars and intellectuals who are convinced that they have already demonstrated the lack of epistemic privilege for science, or any other form of inquiry for that matter, and who deeply resent the assumption by scientists that they have the right to lecture anyone. Thus the battle is between the modernists – who continue to take science not only to be the model for rational inquiry, but as the only form of inquiry capable of producing knowledge, and the post-modernists, who reject the epistemic authority of science and endorse a form of pluralism where any form of inquiry is equally valid.
At this point my questions are two:
(1) Are the postmodernists correct in their claim that the objectivity of science has been undermined?
(2) Where did the postmodernist position come from?
Let’s take the second question first. The issue comes in two parts, one part centers on the alleged breakdown of the claim of epistemic privilege for science. The second centers around the proliferation of so-called contexts within which science has been critiqued, i.e., feminist, economic, political, rhetorical, religious, sociological, etc. I will elaborate, but first one thing needs to be put out on the table. For me, the following is undeniable, the process of scientific inquiry has produced and continues to produce the best and most successful methods we have for understanding the world and universe around us. However, from this fact it doesn’t follow that science has produced only truths and that only science can produce knowledge. I will return to these two points later.
One of the strongest features of scientific inquiry is its self-correcting nature. Faulty assumptions are exposed and rejected, new procedures are tested and new instruments are calibrated and retested, theories are proposed, explored, elaborated, and tested, only to be finally rejected or replaced by a new set of conjectures and methods. And despite this dynamic constant reassessment and reconfiguration, science continues to produce results which give us greater and greater control over our lives, giving us the ability to improve our life styles and our understanding of how it all hangs together. It is this mysterious fact about science that makes it the object of inquiry itself. How, despite all the chaos that the history of science reveals, does science manage to produce so much that is useful? This question – the modernist fascination with the ability of science to produce – is what has given rise to such disciplines as the philosophy of, history of, and sociology of science and technology.
Without putting too fine an edge to it, consider the following truncated accounts of selected events that can be seen as setting the stage for our current debate. The major modernist program to both defend science and to provide it with a kind of intellectual justification was that of the Logical Positivists. Long before Kuhn (1962), the positivist program was under attack from within by the likes of Quine (1953/1971) and Sellars (1956). And long before Kuhn, the historicist movement in the philosophy of science was already underway. For example, Norwood Russell Hanson founded the first North American History and Philosophy of Science department in 1956 at Indiana. So while I cannot credit Kuhn with being the Great Positivist Slayer or even the first person to rub the positivists’ noses in the history of science, he can perhaps be seen as the first popular Anglo-American postmodernist. For whatever else his Structure of Scientific Revolutions argued for, it was that paradigm change was not a rational process and, this was interpreted as showing that science had no better claim to knowledge production than any other activity. Incommensurably and gestalt switches did not leave much room for reasoned debates between partisans of different viewpoints. Likewise, his emphasis on the social context of scientific change, acknowledging that few positions are ever overturned by reason (you just have to wait around until the old guys chairing the departments and editing the journals die), opened the door to further scrutiny of the social domain of scientific practice and placed a greater emphasis on its importance.
The impact of Structure cannot be denied. Today talk of paradigm shifts can be found everywhere. Explaining the popularity of Structure is something else again. Consider the following suggestions: first, the book was clearly written and easily accessible. Second, it dealt with a suggestive new idea, the concept of a paradigm, in such a loose way that it allowed for any number of possible interpretations. Finally, the arguments over the proper analysis of such Kuhnian ideas as paradigms and anomalies themselves artificially inflated the significance of the book’s thesis. But because Structure could be read not only as an attack on the positivists’ reconstruction of the logic of scientific concepts, but also as an attack on the universality of scientific method, it opened the door for others who, for a variety of reasons, relished the opportunity to take science down off its pedestal. Now it ought not to come as a surprise that often the most vicious attackers are those who have sought and who have been denied entry to the temple. Given a foothold, they will attack orthodoxy in the name of upholding its very principles.
Enter the Edinburgh school of sociology of science with its so-called Strong Programme. Their idea was to produce thoroughgoing empiricist sociology. There were to be no more Mertonian norms. The sociological study of science, concentrating as it does on the social processes within the scientific community no longer will find in that aspect of its domain room for a consideration of what the scientist is concerned about, namely nature. Since the Strong Programme could not operationalize nature in terms of interests, power plays, and paranoia, it simply denied that nature had anything to do with the conclusions scientists arrived at. Science is here presented as merely a social process with the results of scientists being negotiated among themselves. Science is social all the way down, so we are told.
The importance of the Strong Programme was not what it said, which was extreme, which is my answer to (1) above. To the question “are the postmodernist claims true” the answer is “of course not”. (Truth is not something with which they are concerned. They are concerned with waging a war for power in the academy.) Strong Programme advocates were part of this attack on science, not because of the truth of what they had to say, but because their methodology could be used to convince those who are easily confused by sophistry that science has no special claim on our credibility. The importance of the Strong Programme was the general position it opened up, which was that science should be considered a social process. For now the question became which social process? Many social processes which emerged from the woodwork, each claiming to have equal legitimacy as sociology for its own critique of science. Thus we get economic critiques, Marxist critiques, feminist critiques, political critiques, and literary critiques, each designed to show that the scientific process is motivated not by its subject matter, but by these various social forces. How are we to adjudicate among them? Pandora’s box has been opened, and now we have this problem on our hands. The “we” by the way is those of us who study, as opposed to do, science. The problem is how to identify the appropriate context in which to explain how science works.
Scientists also have a legitimate worry. If the arguments for a plurality of legitimate epistemic contexts are accepted, and then the argument for the privileged position of science in the knowledge generating game is undermined. This can translate into serious issues when the topic is funding. While scientists are right to insist that there are standards for inquiry and argument and that they make a difference, how can they make their case without being accused of pleading special interest?
However, it is not their responsibility to make the case for the privileged status of scientific knowledge. And, Sokal and Gross and Levitt not withstanding, there are non-scientists who believe in and defend the notion of an objective reality and the possibility of knowledge, who have standards of argument and proof that rival and, nay, even exceed that of the scientific community. The scientific community will find that their strongest position lies in having their case made by someone who does not profit from it. That is the job of the STS community. But which STS community?
In my introduction, I distinguished between two types of STS, Science and Technology Studies (STS -1) versus Science, Technology and Society (STS – 2). The difference may perhaps be put in the following way: STS-1’s agenda is not political. Under my construal, it has an epistemic agenda. Its objective is to understand – in a manner to be cashed out soon – how science works. But, it will be objected, isn’t having an epistemic agenda itself a political agenda. If every agenda is a political agenda, then the use of “political” to characterize an agenda loses its force. By asserting that all human action is an exercise of power, we ignore the truth, and we trivialize human action.
STS-2, by concentrating on explaining how science and technology function in society, more readily opens itself up for exploitation by those pursuing a political program. STS-2 goes by a number of names – science, technology and society, science, technology and values, science and technology in society, science policy, social studies of science, etc. It has as its focus the legitimate job of understanding the impact of science and technology on individuals, governments, cultures, religion, values, or anything social. And while it can produces studies which are neutral in their claims about the benefits or negative effects of, say the introduction of a given technological process, it is more common to see such studies aiming toward a normative conclusion, although this is not necessary. It is, however, what many people want.
For example, when we began the undergraduate program in Humanities, Science and Technology, at Virginia Tech, our aim was to try and produce a coherent set of courses which gave students the tools to make up their own minds about the merits or demerits of a given scientific discovery or technological innovation. After some discussion, we considered the best approach to this end was to teach them enough of the specific science or technology to put them in the position of being able to evaluate different claims being made by advocates or detractors of the discovery or innovation in question. A number of the students complained at first because they wanted a class in what was wrong with this or that. My own belief is that we ought not to be advocates of that sort. We can give our students theories of right and wrong, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses, and we can explain the science and the technology with its possible ramifications. But we must leave it to them to draw out and defend their own conclusions about value.
STS-2 pushes a different line. It builds on the claims of no special privilege for science to argue for, among other things the democratization of science- which includes having non-scientists on review panels making decisions about what kind of science ought to be done.
Democracy is a fine thing. In politics, democracy often is a good thing. When it comes to running a prison, it is not clear that it is a good thing; likewise when it comes to running an army. When it comes to the creation of new knowledge, it is not at all clear that democracy is the appropriate. Having a different point of view is not a justification for giving that point of view a voice in every circumstance. If we take the lack-of-privilege argument and turn it back on itself, there can be no selection of discreet voices to be heard, since every voice is equally valid, therefore everyone must have a say in everything. Not only is this not possible, but the obvious drawbacks should deter any reflective defender of the democratization of science program – for I am sure he or she would not want the general public to have a voice in what he or she teaches or publishes.
Finally there is a phrase that has developed currency with some unfortunate consequences. Today we hear a lot about “science studies”. This phrase began to be used as a substitute for “science and technology studies” and “science, technology and society” several years back, probably as short hand for these longer expressions. The unfortunate consequence is that by speaking of “science studies” you conceal your ideological disposition. Are you an STS-1er or an STS-2er?
So what is STS-1 and how can it help resolve the growing conflict between the STS community and the scientific community? First, we need a fuller (note the lower case “f”) understanding of what STS-1 practitioners actually try to do. STS-1ers view science as a historically contingent social process whose major objective is the understanding of nature. Any adequate account of the activity and findings of science must not only take into account the people involved, but how their interactions with nature influenced and affected their behavior and their thinking. In short, the view that reality is socially constructed is rejected. If it wasn’t obvious before, let me make it clear now that I am proposing that we must study science in context and that that context must, by necessity, first and foremost be historical.
The basic theme is this: to study science in context is to seek out and weave together in a coherent fashion the relevant factors for explaining what happened. There are several criteria for an adequate coherent explanation. (1) It must account for all the relevant factors that contributed to the event (shorthand for anything you want to explain) at that time. (2) It must cohere with what happened prior to the event in question and with what happened afterwards (Pitt 1992). The story we tell is an historical story and it must locate the event in question historically, which is to know its antecedents and to follow its consequences, where possible.
Thus, we can ask why a scientist worked on the problems he or she did when he or she did. To understand that is get a hold of the problematic in question. But to identify a problematic requires that you know where it comes from – i.e., what sorts of problems were people working on prior to and contemporary with the person we are studying now? How do the problems our author/scientist found worthwhile relate to the problems his predecessors and contemporaries found worthwhile? What happened to those problems and the solutions that were developed afterwards? To explain the problematic is to contextualize it in terms of its antecedents and its subsequent history. Yes, this means that a historical account of some relatively contemporary event like the demise of the Super Colliding Super Conductor will not be explanatory until there is enough distance from it to see what the fallout was. Thus, if we tried to tell the story of the SSC now, it would be incomplete and in need of constant revision as the consequences of its cancellation for the physics community unfolds. But every historical explanation is in need of revision as we find out new things. The difference, I propose, is in its pragmatic dimension.
Now in what sense does this approach produce explanations and in what sense is it a pragmatic account? It makes it possible to develop an explanation in the sense that it helps us tell a story in which the events in question are seen in a coherent historical context – i.e., it must include all relevant factors for accounting for why those problems were being addressed, why the solutions that were proposed came to the forefront, and why the subsequent history of those problems developed the way it did, and how the solutions came to the fate they did. This last point is what makes this a pragmatic account – the focus on consequences. In many ways this approach is the opposite of doing Whig history. Instead of importing contemporary categories backwards into the past, the emphasis here is on following the consequences of some particular set of actions into the future.
A lot of pressure is being placed here on the story being coherent. That means that it must handle in a systematic fashion all factors that can be shown to make a difference to what happened. That is why studying science in context must take into account how the scientists interacted with that part of the world they were investigating, i.e., nature. For how the world reacted to their efforts to undercover its secrets is part of the tale, for it bears on what they did next. And so, just to make this a bit contentious, if we are studying Galileo’s discovery of the law of free fall, then it seems important to figure out how Galileo timed the rate of descent when the kind of time pieces we are familiar with were not available to him. Further, it does not appear relevant to worry if he was doing this to come up with a new discovery to flatter his patron Duke Cosimo, pace Biagioli (1992).
Placing the emphasis on historical context clearly gives history some sort of privileged place. For one cannot talk about any other kind of context without placing it historically. And here, perhaps, it would help to say a few words about different kinds of history. Larry Laudan, in Progress and its Problems, introduced a distinction between history of science 1 and 2 – HOS 1 is “the actual past of science” and HOS 2 is “the writings of historians about that past” (Laudan, 1976, p. 158.) It is a good idea, but not as it is phrased, since we cannot isolate the history of science per se. The history of science is imbedded in the past and cannot as such be separated from a lot of other things that were going on at the same time. So let us try a slightly different approach.
The Past is what happened, the whole thing, all of it, every minute, second and detail in the non-stop flow of time. History is the story we tell when we decide to select out certain items from The Past and credit them with some sort of importance. It is like stopping a movie and snipping some frames and then splicing them together and trying to make that make sense. There is another important ingredient to be considered and that involves the choice of a historiography. Hence, understanding the historiography an historian employs to write a history helps to explain why it is this history rather than that one we end up telling.
We must admit that in any telling of a historical story, History, will be, to some extent, arbitrary in its selection of the facts and other factors deemed by the historian to be relevant. Further, History, i.e., the story, will change as we uncover new facts which we can show to be relevant and as we import new considerations into the story to make it hang together better with our understanding of happened before and after. So, to the extent that we can never tell the whole story of what actually happened, and to the extent that the story we tell will be influenced by the selection of facts, the uncovering of new data, the realization that a different perspective needs to be added, History will constantly be changing as we attempt to tell the best story possible.
With this tri-fold distinction in hand, let us now draw a parallel set of distinctions that should help us understand the roles of science studies – S&TS – STS-1.
Parallel to The Past there is Nature. Parallel to History we have Science. Finally, parallel to Historiography we have STS-1, S&TS; thus:
Nature The Past
STS-1, S&TS Historiography
Just as Science is about Nature, Science Studies is about Science, and to be about Science you must understand in what ways Science is about Nature. Further, doing serious science studies means the story is always revisable in the light of new data. In principle then, doing serious science studies is very similar to doing serious science. While we may have a good hypothesis with strong evidential support, it is all up for reevaluation in the light of new data. Furthermore, we must consider all the data, not just what will confirm our hypotheses and make us look good, cute, witty, or wise.
Titillating as Gross and Levitt’s attack on the postmodernists was, it was bad humanistic scholarship and bad science. Neither scientist nor humanist should be allowed to pick and choose which data he or she can use and ignore the rest. If the quality of their science were to be judged on the basis of their book, Gross and Levitt would not get any more NSF funding. Good scientific practice does not allow you to throw away the stuff that makes your hypothesis look dubious, which is just what they did. There is a lot of good solid science studies research that does not buy into the post-modernist game. For Gross and Levitt to ignore that scholarship would be similar to a humanist citing the Piltdown Man and cold fusion as reasons for rejecting science and ignoring the rest.
Earlier Science was characterized as a self-correcting enterprise. While there is one universal scientific method, the willingness to review any theory in the light of new evidence is a crucial presupposition of what it means to be scientific, and, it is what it means to do good science studies. Consider now the following case for the respectability of science studies based on new evidence. The claim here is straightforward: good science studies, like good science, is a self-correcting enterprise.
There are those of us in the science studies community who do not merely accept the latest fad and let it slip by. We may take a bit longer than scientists do, but we too police our own, which is what makes what we do self-correcting. Within the last several years at least five separate studies have come out which take various authors to task for playing fast and loose with the facts.
(1) In a review in Journal for the History of Astronomy Michael Shank challenged Mario Biagioli’s historical claims in defense of his (Biagioli’s) claim that Galileo sought to ingratiate himself to Cosimo II by connecting the moons of Jupiter to the astronomical evidence adduced to support the Medici political dynasty. Biagioli replied in an article in Early Science and Medicine. Shank responded in even greater detail, making an irrefutable case. This exchange took place first in Journal for the History of Astronomy and then continued in.
(2) Alan Shapiro, in an article in Perspectives on Science charged Simon Schaffer with historical inaccuracies claiming Schaffer:
has already attempted to study the acceptance of Newton’s theory, by using a constructivist approach and implicitly adopting the model of a modern laboratory science. His account, however, must be judged a failure when weighed again the historical evidence. Applying his approach to the acceptance of Newton’s theory means focusing on Newton’s instruments, especially prisms, the difficulty of replication, the opaqueness of instrumentation and experimental procedures, the uniqueness of local practices, and Newton’s efforts to establish “authority” and “transparency” for them. By reducing the issue of acceptance to one of power and authority, Schaffer argues that Newton established his theory by means of a virtual conspiracy among his acolytes. Newton’s power to get his theory accepted, he tells us, “lay in control over the social institutions of experimental philosophy. In the 1670s, Newton had exercised no such power. After 1710 his authority among London experimenters was overwhelming” (p.100). Not only does this explanation not satisfy the chronology of the acceptance of his theory, which occurred in Britain well before 1710, but it does not account for its acceptance on the Continent. Schaffer situations Newton’s experiment and use of prisms in such a local situation that, he argues, Newton and his conspirators held that the conspirators will succeed only with prisms made of British glass. This odd claim is what initially led me to distrust his account, especially when I found that the sources he cites to establish his argument said nothing of the kind.” (Shapiro, 1996, p. 60).
(3) In several recent issues an interesting set of exchanges took place in Isis between Moti Feingold and Steve Shapin. Feingold disagreed with Shapin’s historical story as told in The Social History of Truth. Shapin tried a rebuttal and Feingold responded in detail.
(4) At the 1996 History of Science meetings a younger scholar challenged in a quite conclusive manner Shapin’s characterization of the 17th century British gentry, showing that were not disinterested figures and could not be the models for objective evaluation. Her point was that the historical context couldn’t be ignored. The British gentry of the 17th century, having recovered from a brutal civil war had to take over management of their own estates. They had a significant stake in the advancement of agricultural science and that is why the British Society placed such emphasis on agricultural experiments.
(5) And, finally, in a review essay in Physis, if I might modestly add, I argued against Mario Biagioli’s (1992) that Galileo was in Cosimo d’Medici’s court because he was THE Galileo and not because Galileo was only trying to curry favor with his patron.
We may be slow, and that can in part be explained by the length of time it takes to get papers published in the humanities, but we do correct our own when they make mistakes. We do so in the same way scientists do: we check the data, we explore the relation between the facts and the hypothesis and we attack the argument, not the person giving it. Would it be rash to suggest that scientists might learn something from the methodology of good humanistic science studies scholarship, just as we have learned from science? I urge scientists to learn to recognize and to appreciate good science studies, for one of its jobs is to clarify just what is so special about science. This does not mean that everything we say will be positive – call it tough love.
Contact details: email@example.com
Ariew, R. 1995. G. W. Leibniz, life and Work. In The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz edited by Nicholas Jolley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Biagioli, M. 1993. Galileo Courtier. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Biagioli, M. 1996. Playing with the Evidence. Early Science and Medicine 1: 70-105.
Gross, P. and N. Levitt. 1994. Higher superstition: the academic left and its quarrels with science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Kuhn, T. 1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Laudan, L. 1976. Progress and its Problems. Berekley: University of California Press.
Pitt, J. C. 1992. Problematics in the History of Philosophy. Synthese 92: 117-134.
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 I thank Roger Ariew for bringing this delightful tale to my attention.
 Now for post-modernists these claims already sound rather old fashioned – or to use the favorite pejorative, positivistic. But before the thesis advanced here is dismissed are anachronistic, allow me to muster an array of rhetorical strategies designed to enlist you into my network. The goal of doing so is to increase our understanding of the contents of the black box called science.
 Clearly it is inappropriate to major universal claims of this sort. I am, of course, only referring to small groups within each community. However, for simplicity’s sake, I will refer to the “scientific community” and the “STS community” with the understanding that I am not intending global condemnations or approvals.
 Once again it would be irresponsible to assume that all post-modernists fit into this picture.
 My thinking on this has been helped, if not sharpened, by numerous discussions with Mike Seltzer and Jim Collier.
 Although it is interesting that when Austria recently acknowledged the legitimate demands of the elected right wing to a role in the government, the rest of the European Union ostracized it. So, for some, democracy is good only if it gives you the “correct” results.
 I thank Barbara Reeves for helping me articulate this difference between history and the past.
Michael Seltzer forced me to consider this point.
On How (Not) to Turn the Senses into Food for Thought; or, When Context is King
Gregory Jones-Katz, University of Wisconsin
Review: Smith, Mark M. Sensing the Past: Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting and Touching in History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. 123 pp.
There is yet another ‘turn’ in US History departments: sensory history. Touted by historians in The American Historical Review, with prospective scholarship to ‘examine hitherto ignored phenomena,’ thereby ‘opening unexplored territories of the past,’ the history of the senses has a promising future. Mark Smith, Professor of History at the University of South Carolina and president of The Historical Society, has been a prominent contributor to the field for almost a decade. Smith makes his case for sensory history in Sensing the Past: Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting, and Touching in History, published a few years before the current interest. In Sensing, Smith traces the importance of the senses for chief cultural developments from antiquity to the pre-Enlightenment era, focusing on how the senses informed the modern emergence of ‘social classes, race and gender conventions, industrialization, urbanization, colonialism, imperialism, nationalism, [and] ideas concerning selfhood and the “other”’ (1). This review essay concentrates on and challenges Smith’s views of how the historian should produce, assess, and validate histories of the senses. Rather than offer a new understanding of how to write sensory history, Smith’s approach is disappointedly status quo.
In addition to canvassing the past thirty years of scholarship, Smith considers Sensing an opportunity to provoke a critical conversation about the practical and theoretical assumptions that have guided the presentation and methodology of histories of the senses. He seeks to intervene into the literature so as to ‘reframe an emerging historical conversation…at a key juncture in the evolution of writing on the history of senses’ (1-3). Smith’s main argument is against the ‘orality theory’ (11), a model developed by Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong and which Smith claims has regrettably dominated the literature. Proponents of the ‘orality theory’ assert that vision came to dominate Western thinking following the invention of movable type in the sixteenth century. The print revolution braided sight and logic, seeing and reason, vision and objectivity, while hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching were denigrated as irrational and premodern (8-11). The invention and dissemination of movable type therefore became the historical pivot to demarcate the ‘great divide’ in the history of the senses.
For Smith, however, this account obscures the ways non-visual senses were essential to the development of modernity in Europe and North America. The ‘print revolution empowered vision,’ he acknowledges, ‘but did so unevenly and not always at the expense of the other senses’ (2). Instead, according to Smith, the conventional narrative, which views modernity as predicated on and promoting sight (and writing) while at the same time stifling hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching, overlooks the ways modernity and the five senses have co-existed and influenced one another. Smith also suggests that vision was not always the stable, rational sense, either during or after the diffusion of print. The orthodox account therefore ‘reinscribe[s] the value of the eye in the very writing of history,’ reaffirming ‘prevailing frameworks [by] stressing the victory of the rational eye under modernity’ (21).
Smith seeks to dismantle the sensory hierarchy with which histories of the senses have thus far been written. To dismantle this hierarchy permits the writing of an accurate narrative that explains how sensual experiences influenced a broad range of intellectual and cultural developments in the past. Smith’s aim is therefore neither to invert ‘standard sensory hierarchies [n]or to reaffirm them,’ but to ‘complicate them,’ which, for Smith, allows the writing of ‘the history of the senses in a fully historicized fashion over many places and arching over a long period of time’ (18). Fairly rare for a historian, then, Smith calls for a deconstructive history. Though he does not describe his work in these terms, Smith’s aim to overturn and displace, to deconstruct, the sensory hierarchy is similar to French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s project. Except for a brief reference (20) when discussing intellectual historian Martin Jay’s Downcast Eyes, however, Derrida is curiously absent from Sensing. Regardless of Derrida’s spectral presence and despite Smith’s legitimate claims of the innovativeness in attempting to write a history of the sensate unchained from the myopia of ocularcentrism, Smith remains trapped by the shortcomings of contextualism, of which deconstruction, the implicit inspiration for Sensing, has been the most recent and most ascetic form. Understanding these limitations and outlining a possible future for how to write histories of the sensate require further investigation into Smith’s method.
Smith argues that contextualization dismantles the hierarchies dependent on the historically erroneous oppositions between premodern/modern and sight/non-visual senses. He explains that he agrees with French historian Alain Corbin’s position that ‘we must stress the primacy of context if we are to avoid becoming hostage to the rhetorical sensory hierarchy sponsored by a given class of a particular place and time’ (15). To deconstruct sensory hierarchies and then correctly interpret the interrelatedness of the senses requires meticulous attention to the original context of each sense experience; the historian is otherwise duped by the prejudices of the literature – biases, not of the heterogeneous groups and individuals who emphasized different combinations of senses, but of a circumscribed elite that has favored writing and thus supported the print revolution (vision). Smith, for instance, observes that McLuhan’s ‘orality theory’ is ‘over-theorized and under-researched’ (12), the result of evidence drawn from English literature (McLuhan’s graduate training was in English). In contrast, Smith suggests, sensory historians ought to ‘seriously [consider] the full social and cultural context of…the way people thought about the senses’ (4). Such a ‘context-sensitive historical inquiry,’ Smith writes, can ‘ask serious questions about…sight’s relationship to the other senses’ in both ‘premodern and modern societies’ (17). Contextualization – the interpretation of the social and historical situation that surrounds sensory events – forms the center of Smith’s approach and, as he suggests, ought to be the watchword for sense historians.
Contextualization not only dismantles the binaries of the historiography. Contextualization also protects against the essentialization of the senses, which, Smith notes, ignores the ‘historically and culturally generated ways of knowing and understanding’ (3) sensual experience.Smith writes:
[T]he word ‘is’ rarely graces the pages of this book; I do not claim that the sense of smell, taste, sight, sound, or taste ‘is’ anything. To do so violates a fundamental point of this essay: the senses are not universal, and not transhistorical, and can only be understood in their specific social and historical contexts. The idea that a sense ‘is’ anything does enormous violence to the central idea that senses were lots of things. Their histories cannot be understood by accepting misleading conceits concerning what a given sense supposedly means – or ‘is’ – today, whatever that might mean (3).
By committing oneself to the contextualization of the senses, Smith believes that one can prevent the error of claiming to have seized the Platonic substance of the senses. For Smith, contextualization also prevents the nostalgia for a past that often turns out to be an ideological construct. ‘Without careful and precise contextualization and historicization that pays attention to the senses as relative cultural constructs,’ Smith warns, ‘we are in danger of reinscribing an historical conceit that makes the past simply sensual just because it was the past’ (17). Furthermore, according to Smith, contextualization avoids the ahistorical illusion that one has bridged the division between then and now to presently experience the past as it really was. Smith writes: ‘[T]he idea that we can, at the point where historical sources stop, deploy our imaginations to capture and recreate [a sensory experience], is fictional…because our capacity to imagine is heavily influenced by the values and context of the moment in time and place that we occupy’ (124). During a critique of US historians Peter Hoffer and Wade Shaffer, both of whom advocate for what Smith characterizes as ‘a transcendent sensory past,’ Smith declares that ‘it is impossible to experience…sensations the same way as those who experienced these sensations’. This is ‘true,’ he concludes, ‘for all historical evidence’ (121). Here and throughout Sensing, Smith seems to be parasitizing Derrida, for whom ‘the concept of experience…is most unwieldy [and] belongs to the history of metaphysics’. For Derrida, ‘we must, by means of the sort of contortion and contention that discourse is obliged to undergo, exhaust the resources of the concept of experience’. Similar to Derrida, Smith argues that, instead of succumbing to the metaphysical illusion of having re-presented past sensory experiences, the historian should adhere to polymath Jean-François Revel’s ‘hard-nosed historicism’ (124). For Smith, then, the identification of context is the elixir for ocularcentrism, the answer to problematic claims to have accessed ontology and the past, the proper means for writing histories of the senses. In different circumstances and on a different topic, Derrida concurs: ‘nothing exists outside context’.
At first, Smith is utterly convincing. His deconstruction of the ‘great divide’ in the history of senses is a much-needed corrective to the dominance the orthodox account enjoys. Most historians would also endorse Smith’s insistence that one contextualize so as to understand senses. Smith’s argument is agreeable to contemporary humanists as well. Humanists of all stripes would approve of Smith’s contextualism for ethical and political reasons (125) – the assertion that one has directly and thus completely grasped ‘reality’ leads to totalitarian claims of possessing the absolute meaning of ‘being,’ of what ‘is’. The postmodernist emphasis on language and cultural significance as opposed to what used to be called ‘the Thing itself’ is at this point habitual, having influenced the ‘scholarly analysis of every human action in the social and historical world’. As Smith, individuals and groups, across the political spectrum, endlessly reiterate some variety of the mantra that, because nothing exists outside context, one is left with the interminable task of contextualization, of interpretation, of ‘writing’ about the world, or, as in Smith’s case, composing histories of the senses. Context is King.
However, Smith insufficiently explores the limits the sovereign power he grants to context places on histories of senses past. Because Smith’s stress on context not only veins the body of his text but is also the bedrock of his approach to the writing of sensory history, his blindness to the inadequacies of solely relying on context undermines his project. Smith demands that one can only write accurate histories of the senses if one contextualizes. For Smith, the historian establishes context through writing, the medium of print: ‘[W]e can readily grasp what particular sensory events of stimuli meant to particular individuals and groups in particular contexts [through print] … [P]rinted evidence and the sensory perceptions recorded by contemporaries…constitute the principal medium through which we can access the senses of the past and their meanings’ (125). According to Smith, print is the key path through which the historian contextualizes and composes accurate interpretations of senses past. Yet, because his strategy for historicizing the sensate emphasizes print, Smith only ‘looks’ at the non-visual senses. In fact, though Smith recognizes that others’ questioning of dominance of sight has often inadvertently reinstated the importance of the eye at the expense of the other senses (20), he fails to confront how his exclusive reliance on printed evidence reinforces the primacy of vision – Smith places the non-visual senses, which do not exist in writing and cannot be ‘seen,’ under the isolating gaze of the eye. Smith ironically repeats the error he levels against orthodox accounts of senses past that, as he explains, have elevated writing and thus favored vision over hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. By replicating the ocularcentrism he critiques in others, he strengthens the biases of the discourse he seeks to deconstruct. He ‘reinscribe[s] the value of the eye in the very writing of history,’ reaffirming ‘prevailing frameworks [by] stressing the victory of the rational eye under modernity’ (21).
Smith’s method is neither radical nor original when placed inside the milieu of late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century academic culture. His approach is aligned with work in the humanities and social sciences on either side of the Atlantic that has dominated Western culture since the early Enlightenment. This type of scholarship assumes that intellectual work necessitates interminable analysis of the things of the world. Such scholarship focuses on language and the ‘”meaning” of nature, social institutions, or human cultures’ and, in so doing, devalues the materiality of things that cannot be easily identified and then imprisoned in a context, in print, in words. Smith is in fact spellbound by this ‘”meaning-based,” or “hermeneutical,” interpretative paradigm,’ a ‘kind of thinking that uses a “Cartesian” dichotomy to detach subjects from the objects in nature or society that they describe’. He privileges effects produced by the mind (consciousness or res cogitans) over effects produced by the body (res extensa). Thus, for Smith, it turns out, ‘subjectivity’ and ‘objectivity’ are central, while corporeal existence – the place outside the division between subject and object – is at best peripheral.
To be sure, Smith’s call for historians to contextualize sensory events is persuasive. Individuals mediate sensory experiences through systems of meaning and thus remain partially inside the ‘Cartesian’ dichotomy. If not, there would be no traces or texts to analyze. However, Smith offers no alternative method besides his ‘Cartesian’ approach, which explores how we interrogateand see the world but at the same time downplays our ontological interest in how we exist – feel, hear, taste, and smell – as bodies of the world. Smith for instance insists that ‘the taste of a lemon is far from historically or culturally constant and how it tastes, its meaning, its salivating sharpness or sweetness is dependent on many factors, the not least of which is history’ (124, emphasis in original). ‘What is tasteful and what is tasteless is a product of context’ (125). From Smith’s perspective, the historian’s task consists only in identifying the context of a sensory event and, as context was, is, and will be constantly shifting, the historian is unable to capture historical actors’ original sensory experience.
Smith however conflates the how of history with the what of history, the ontological happening of history with the epistemological meaning of history. While for Smith history ‘is’ exclusively context, history, particularly sensory history, is not entirely cultural, a series of metaphors or rhetorical systems. History is not only, as deconstructionist Paul de Man argued, an endlessly self-referential text that only offers an allegory of its own (mis)reading. The issue is also not, as Smith worries, that ‘curators/managers’ of museums and re-enactments ‘wrongly marry the production of the past to its present-day consumption,’ deceptively ‘render[ing] consumable…something which is, in fact, beyond consumption’ (121). The issue is not how capitalism commodifies the past for the consumer. The issue ishow and when ‘things’ there in their immediacy – not metaphors that displace one’s proximity to the world – produce sensory experiences. Smith is indeed correct that past sensory events cannot be completely conveyed through language, in writing or print. However, a sensory event ‘is’ no-thing before it is examined, objectified, and means some-thing. The incapacity of language does not mean the historian should, as Smith advocates, wholly descend into the abyss of context, retreating from and ignoring the history outside the text. Derrida’s statements that ‘there is nothing outside the text’ and, as noted, that ‘there is nothing outside context’ reach an eerie apotheosis in Smith’s approach.
Because Smith’s contextualist strategy distances the non-visual senses, he stifles the sensory experiences of hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching, entombing them in a linguistic hall of mirrors. His method is unable to address the experiential encounters with things of the world immediately present in the historian’s physical space. He is deaf to warnings offered by those such as French philosopher Michel Serres: ‘When they [i.e. the philosophers, the historians – academics] come across an object, they change it, by sleight of hand, into a relationship, language or representation’. ‘If my finger touches my lip and says I, my mouth becomes an object, but in reality it is my finger that is lost’. Literary theorist Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht explains: ‘If we attribute a meaning to a thing that is present, that is, if we form an idea of what this thing may be in relation to us, we seem to attenuate, inevitably, the impact that this thing can have on our bodies and our senses’. The more context, the more meaning. The more meaning, the more print. The more print, the greater the dominance of the eye. The greater the dominance of the eye, the greater the loss of the immediacy of the other senses. As Smith prohibits sensory experiences ‘outside the text/context’ to factor into the historicization of the senses, he thus disregards the ontological concern in how one exists, an interest that organizes any epistemic foundation, as ontological interest happens before interpretation, prior to culture and print. His focus on contextualization erects binaries between mind and body, vision and non-visual senses.
Smith writes on his website that he hopes to ‘help restore the full sensory texture of history and examine what the senses in addition to seeing might be able to tell us about historical experience and causation’. However, his excessive focus on print, which is also an extreme focus on sight, strengthens an epistemology that distances hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Smith cannot do justice to the ‘production of presence,’ those moments when cultural phenomena and cultural events become tangible and have an impact on our senses and our bodies. Far from showing us a new way to write histories of the sensate, then, Smith reinforces the dominant mode of historical writing that considers the past as silos of data to be cataloged and stored for future interpretation.
And, yet, prior to Sensing, Smith did not always hold these views. He implies that he underwent an epistemological conversion following his reliance on psychoacoustics in his earlier book, Listening to Nineteenth-Century America, as psychoacoustics is a ‘methodology that can, without due care, blur the distinction between past and present’. In a footnote in Sensing, Smith writes: ‘My [...] thinking has [since] moved toward a more constructionist – and historical – treatment of the senses’ (155 n. 1). It is toward this contextualist, in the end deconstructionist, approach to the senses that Smith hopes historians will embrace, envisioning in the closing paragraphs of Sensing that histories of senses past may come to influence all historical endeavors: ‘If, over the coming decades, sensory historians generally begin to include all of the sensate in their studies, they could hope that their habit of attending to the sensate will begin to percolate into the profession at large’ (131).
For this reviewer, however, if, over the coming decades, historians do not develop a strategy for writing histories of the sensate that attend to the oscillation between the ontological, ‘presence-based’ concern in the how of history and the epistemological, ‘meaning-based’ interest in the what of history, they will succeed in transforming sensory history into a cold objective pabulum – food for thought and language – material solely for intellectual nourishment, not of the five senses. If historians solely practice Smith’s method, they will remain imprisoned within the tradition of late twentieth- and early twentieth-century academic culture. Steadily growing for the last thirty years, this culture, epitomized by Derrida and his intellectual progeny, privileges the production of meaning and downplays the powers of presence. It is time however to ‘end the tyranny of the absolute monarch’ of context and overthrow what Gumbrecht has labeled the ‘”academic enthronement of hermeneutics”’.
In Sensing, Smith nonetheless performs a rewarding service. Not only does he map out ways to dismantle the ‘great divide’ in the history of senses. Smith also, albeit unintentionally, highlights the limits of the hermeneutical approach for studies of senses past. Yet, to break open the confines – or rather, to deconstruct – Smith’s extreme emphasis on context the historian need not renounce the medium of print, reject context, and simply ‘be’. Nor should the historian, as Smith aptly warns against, appeal to a romanticized sensory past. The historian ought to consider the context of sensory experiences, the history found in the narrative or text, or in metaphors. However, the historian should also note those historical moments not in print. To include these experiences and their effects does not reject vision, jettison the text, silence language, end interpretation, and deploy the imagination to write fictional accounts of an awe-inspiring past. To include these flashes of presence is to recognize the outside of the text. It is to acknowledge that we can no longer afford to believe ourselves to be purely ‘Cartesian,’ that is, of the ‘rationally choosing,’ ocularcentric Subject. It is, in addition to observing, to listen, smell, feel, and taste the past. Thus, rather than subscribing to an exclusively representational, ‘meaning-based’ notion of history, historiography ought to also embrace its ‘presence effects.’ Only then can the historian embark on satisfying Smith’s desire to explain historical experience and causation; only then can the historian attempt to rebuild the full sensory texture of history. Otherwise, our histories, of the sensate or otherwise, may indeed turn out to be just food for thought.
Gregory Jones-Katz is a Ph.D. student in U.S. intellectual and cultural history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org
Davies, M.. 2010. Imprisoned by History: Aspects of Historicized Life. New York: Routledge.
de Man, P. 1979. Allegories of Reading Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Derrida, J. 1976. Of Grammatology. Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
——–. 1988. Limited Inc. Evanston, Il: Northwestern University Press.
——–. 1985. Margins of Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Descartes, R. 1996. Meditations on First Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich. 2004. Production of Presence. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Jay, M. 1994. Downcast Eyes: the denigration of vision in twentieth-century French thought. California: University of California Press.
——–. 2011. In the Realm of the Senses: An Introduction. The American Historical Review 116 (2): 307, 314.
Kramer, Lloyd. Searching For Something That Is Here And There And Also Gone. In History and Theory 48 (1): 85-97.
Serres, Michel. 2009. The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies. Continuum International Publishing Group: New York.
Smith. 2001. Listening to Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Waters, L. 2007. Literary Aesthetics: The Very Idea. In Producing Presences: Branching out From Gumbrecht’s Work, edited by Victor K. Mendes and João Cezar de Castro Rocha, pp. 157-171.
 Jay, Martin. 2011. In the Realm of the Senses: An Introduction. The American Historical Review 116 (2): 307, 314.
 Derrida, Jacques. 1976 (1967). Of Grammatology. Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 60.
 Derrida. 1988. Limited Inc. Evanston, Il: Northwestern University Press, 152.
 Kramer, Lloyd. Searching For Something That Is Here And There And Also Gone. History and Theory 48 (1): 85.
 Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich. 2004. Production of Presence. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
 Kramer, 86. See Descartes, René. 1996. Meditations on First Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
 Gumbrecht, 18, 106-108.
 See de Man, Paul. 1979. Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust. New Haven: Yale University Press. Derrida argues that metaphor is the heart of philosophy. See Derrida. 1985. Margins of Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago, 208-272.
 Derrida. Of Grammatology, 158.
 Serres, Michel. 2009. The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies. Continuum International Publishing Group: New York, 41.
 Ibid., 25.
 Gumbrecht, xiv.
 http://www.cas.sc.edu/hist/facultyprofiles/smithmark.html, date accessed May 13, 2011.
 Smith. 2001. Listening to Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 266-267.
 Gumbrecht, 11. Quoted in Lindsay Waters, ‘Literary Aesthetics: The Very Idea,’ in Producing Presences: Branching out From Gumbrecht’s Work, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 2007), 165. See Davies, Martin L. 2010. Imprisoned by History: Aspects of Historicized Life. Routledge: New York, New York.
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(*Social Epistemology On-Line Editor)
Dr. Steve Fuller
In recognition for his foundational work in the field of social epistemology, Steve Fuller has been appointed to the Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology (2011). Professor Fuller, who has been Professor of Sociology at Warwick since 1999, founded the first journal and published the first book on social epistemology in the late 1980s.
‘Social epistemology’ is an interdisciplinary field that brings the resources of the humanities and the social sciences to bear on philosophical and policy questions concerning the production of knowledge. The chair is named after the French philosopher who coined the word ‘sociology’ in the early 19th century to refer to a project very much like today’s social epistemology. (http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/insite/news/warwickpeople/steve_fuller_social_epistemology/)
Dr. James Collier
August in Blacksburg, Virginia
Jim Collier is an Associate Professor of English, and an Affiliated Faculty Member in the Department of Science, Technology and Society and in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought, at Virginia Tech. He is the Executive Editor of Social Epistemology. With his editorship of the journal in 2009, he has focused on questions regarding the future conduct of social epistemology. He sees social epistemology as a normative basis for making critical judgments about academic inquiry and, as a consequence, as a means for developing knowledge policy. Earlier work involved the rhetoric of science and scientific and technical communication.
Dr. Elisabeth Simbürger
Elisabeth Simbürger is the current online-editor of the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective (July 2011 – July 2012). She is a Research Fellow at the Centro de Políticas Comparadas en Educación at the Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago de Chile and a part-time lecturer at the Escuela de Sociología of the same university and the Escuela Militar of the Chilean Army. Elisabeth’s research focuses on the idea of the university and its discourses in Higher Education, geared towards a critique of the neoliberal university and its impact on academic work and the intellectual development of disciplines. She is particularly interested in visual epistemologies and has recently carried out a visual ethnography of Higher Education advertisement in public spaces (metro) in Santiago. Between October 2011 and October 2014 Elisabeth is carrying out research on academic identities and practice in neoliberal contexts of Chilean Higher Education, looking at the disciplines of sociology, education and biology (funded by the Chilean National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (Fondecyt)).
Elisabeth studied sociology at the universities of Vienna, Bielefeld and Warwick. She holds a Mag. in sociology from the University of Vienna, Austria and an MA in Comparative Labour Studies and a PhD in Sociology from the University of Warwick, UK. Her thesis (supervised by Steve Fuller) was about British sociology and sociologists and how they practise or compromise their own disciplinary aspirations as sociologists.
Dr. Thomas Basbøll
Thomas Basbøll receieved his PhD in 2004. His dissertation was about what Steve Fuller has called “the profound ambivalence of Western philosophers towards the equation of knowledge and power”. Believing that he has overcome this ambivalence, at least in his own case, he has been working as a “resident writing consultant” at the Copenhagen Business School more or less ever since. He thinks of himself as a practicing social epistemologist in a rigorous sense: not holding an academic post himself, he helps academics situate their knowledge in their respective discourses, i.e., he helps them meet the demand to “publish or perish”. Thomas may one day return to academia, and does do some critical scholarship on the side, but so far he is happy to think of himself as a modern-day, professionalized Socrates: a midwife, or at least handmaid, to the sciences.
Nathan Bell is currently a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at the University of North Texas. He holds a MA in Philosophy from UNT, as well as a Bachelor of Science, with majors in Philosophy and Business Administration, from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He is currently a Teaching Fellow at UNT, and has previously been a Research Assistant for the Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity. Much of his work focuses on environmental hermeneutics and narrative, including a hermeneutic conception of envrionmental identity and how it mutually influences and is influenced by various elements of media and society.
He is particularly interested in using hermeneutic and narrative theories to look at how different disciplines and different modes of knowledge production interact and influence/are influenced by society and culture.
Emma Craddock graduated in 2010 with a first class undergraduate degree from the University of Warwick in sociology. She has since been awarded ESRC 1+3 funding to do a Masters in Research Methods in sociology followed by a PhD in Sociology. As part of the MA, Emma is taking a philosophy of research module during which she will be encountering many of the complicated concepts involved in the field of social epistemology. The focus of her PhD will be the ways in which political activist groups in Nottingham (UK) have utilised the internet in order to mobilise their opinion against public spending cuts. As part of this she intends to explore how political involvement has transformed with the rise of new technology and how specifically a local public sphere has been constructed via the use of new media. This will also involve contrasting ‘new’ media with ‘old’ media, in terms of their influence on the public sphere and political opinions. She is also interested in research concerning the position of and the future of humanity as a concept, as well as the sociology of religion and the social theory of the enlightenment and secularisation. In her undergraduate dissertation, she studied the (in her eyes, problematic) relationship between the British Humanist Association (BHA) and the New Atheist movement, looking at the (clashing) intellectual backgrounds of both and interviewing the chief executive of the BHA as part of this. She has also written a textbook review for the Times Higher Education magazine in May 2010. Emma is looking forwards to learning from the other members of the collective and to being challenged by complex ideas and theories.
William Davis is a graduate student in Science and Technology Studies (STS) at Virginia Tech University. He received his B.A. in Literature from Virginia Tech where he also minored in philosophy. He completed an M.A. in Literature from Northern Arizona University, but since then has strayed from that part of the humanities.
His acquaintance with STS began when he was teaching in Mexico City (2006-8) and met colleagues who were pursuing degrees in a related area and who introduced him to some authors in the field. As he began reading essays and articles by Albert Borgman, Andrew Feenberg, Langdon Winner and Carl Mitcham, he was fascinated by how technology, broadly construed, affects epistemology and what it means, generally speaking, to know something. His focus at Virginia Tech has been specifically on subjects as philosophy of science, philosophy of technology and most recently on the relationship of knowledge and expertise in the sciences and other disciplines. Of particular interest are issues of governance through forms of states, institutions, as well as other communities, and their implications for disciplines like the sciences, philosophy and sociology.
A specific example of a concerning question is: What is the role of the academic in public debate, and how should we (people in general) make judgments about issues that affect numerous heterogeneous stakeholders? Trust clearly plays a large role in this negotiation, but how do we reach this when we start from such varied positions and have seemingly (or, perhaps, actually) conflicting goals? William is giving special attention to the conflicting views regarding social epistemology provided over the last 25 years by Steve Fuller and Alvin Goldman.
Dr. Marianne de Laet
Marianne de Laet is an anthropologist/STS person who teaches (about) practices of knowing at a small liberal arts college for science and engineering in southern California. As an anthropologist of knowledge-making practices, she studies scientists and engineers-in-the-making. One might say that at Harvey Mudd College, she lives with her tribe.
Marianne’s (research) life has brought her into the spheres of knowing and knowledge-making in anthropology and astronomy, intellectual property and appropriate technology, extremely large telescopes, training practices in dogs athletes and scientists, and, currently, the conjunction of tasting and knowing in the eating body. In her personal life (inasmuch as personal and research can be separated) she lives with a person and two very large dogs, who will all show up, periodically, in her posts, as they all have tremendous influence on her work. She is very interested in collaboration, collaboratories, collective authorship, and communal imaginations and in her view and experience such collaborations are not limited to those among humans.
Among the many courses she offers is a new one, called “thinking about knowing,” which has to be further developed — having fallen into the trap of making it too much like a traditional epistemology 101 course in its first rendering. Marianne would like to direct it towards thinking and knowing as collaborative action rather than the concentrated effort of the individual genial mind.
Dr. Susan Dieleman
Susan Dieleman received her PhD in Philosophy from York University, Canada, in 2011. Her areas of specialization are feminist philosophy and pragmatism, and her dissertation focused on the ways Richard Rorty’s discursive theory of social progress is useful for feminist theory and activism, in particular with regards to the problem of what she terms “epistemic exclusion.” In her current research, she expands the scope of the pragmatist feminist approach she developed in her dissertation and in her recent publications to interrogate and develop issues that arise at the intersections of social epistemology, deliberative democracy, and philosophy of public policy. Some questions that reside at the intersections of these three areas that she is interested to pursue include: Should public deliberation contribute to public policy decisions and, if so, how? How can we navigate the tensions between democracy and expertise? What is the epistemic role of diversity and inclusion in policy decision-making? What are the philosophical underpinnings of disagreement and its resolution? What is the function of testimony and trust in developing and implementing public policy? Susan is currently working toward an MA in Public Policy and Administration at Ryerson University, Canada, to help her explore and develop answers to these questions.
Dr. Martin Evenden
Martin Evenden finished his PhD in Sociology at the University of Warwick in 2010, which combined the insights of Spinoza and critical realism (the British philosophical movement associated with the work of Roy Bhaskar) in focusing on the nature of freedom and selfhood. Currently, his main interests lie in how knowledge can be positively used to have emancipatory effects at the level of and be made more accessible to the individual, critical rationalism (in particular issues that inform judgemental rationality – which explanations are better on the balance of existing evidence) and issues pertaining to reflexivity.
Dr. Melinda Fagan
Melinda Bonnie Fagan is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Rice University. Her research focuses on biomedical experimental practice and philosophical conceptions of objectivity and evidence. Before joining the Rice philosophy faculty in 2007, she studied History and Philosophy of Science (Ph.D. 2007, Indiana University), Philosophy (M.A. 2002, University of Texas at Austin) and Biology (B.A. 1992, Williams College; Ph.D. 1998, Stanford University). Her research in biology focused on colonial organisms (plants and protochordates) and evolution of histocompatibility. At Rice, she teaches courses in philosophy of science, theory of knowledge and social epistemology. Her current research is on philosophy of stem cell biology, with emphasis on experimental evidence for models of biological development, and the role of collaborative interaction in biomedical research. She has authored over a dozen journal articles and book chapters, and is currently writing a book about stem cell research (see http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~mbf2/ for links to articles and CV).
(Photo: Zeljko Stevanic, IFP d.o.o) Janja Komljenovič holds a degree (University Diploma in Psychology) from University of Ljubljana. Soon she became interested in higher education and works in the field from two perspectives for several years: policy and research.
Her policy and practical work began already while she was a student representative being involved in national and European higher education policy making, especially in the Bologna process and quality assurance in higher education. After graduating she was employed at the European University Association where she made a study on higher education financing in Europe and contributed to several others projects. Between 2009 and 2011 she was an advisor to the Minister of higher education, science and technology where she was involved in national policy making. Her main accomplishments were work on legislative changes for quality assurance in higher education (2009) and National Programme for Higher Education 2011-2020 (2010-2011). She was also national representative to the Bologna Follow-up Group and EQAR. Now she is employed at the University of Ljubljana working on institutional development and quality.
The higher education field caught also her academic attention and she returned to the university. Currently she is a PhD Student in Education Policy and works as a part-time researcher at the Centre for Educational Policy Studies, University of Ljubljana. There she is a part of a research project team on “Differentiation, equity and productivity in expanded higher education systems – an internationalization perspective”. Her PhD is on ‘idea of a university’ and university autonomy mentored by Pavel Zgaga (University of Ljubljana) and co-mentored by Steve Fuller (University of Warwick).
Her research interests are mainly: concept of a university, university autonomy, the role of universities in modern society and new circumstances for higher education. She is particularly looking into a university as an institution where old expectations (such as knowledge production and institutional support replacing genetic social reproduction) and new expectations (corporate university and world class initiative) clash.
Dr. Stephen Norrie
Stephen Norrie has several degrees in sociology from two UKuniversities (York and Warwick), and is currently reworking his PhD thesis into publishable form. His intellectual project concerns the reconstruction of social theory and political action through a re-examination of the Marxist idea of an Aufhebung of philosophy, a methodology which he considers closely connected to a reflection on the connection between forms of thought and their institutional locus, leading to an interest in theory of the university as an important political site, especially in relation to a reconstructed theory of socialism. His thought can be located in the tradition of evaluating Marxism relative to its German Idealist spawning ground, as exemplified by the work of Georg Lukács, and continued (though with every step forward matched by at least one backwards) by the Frankfurt School. He has also been influenced by Alvin Gouldner’s reflexive sociology and ‘Marxist’ critique of Marxism, Roy Bhaskar’s ‘critical realism’, Descartes’ theory of method, neo-Trotskyism and other recent developments in Marxist theory, neo-Durkheimian theories of ritual, and Foucault’s work on material practices—and would like to find time for a fresh look at Freud. The underlying aim of his work is to expose the current institutional barriers which prevent apparently critical knowledges from serving the cause of genuine social enlightenment and the organisation of effective alternatives to a capitalist system that, far from exhibiting the ‘smartness’ of markets lauded by neoliberals, instead increasingly approximates the brainless lurches of a zombie haplessly wandering towards inevitable splattery annihilation, simply because it doesn’t know how to do anything else.
Melissa Orozco is a PhD student at the Instituto de Investigaciones Filósoficas of the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM). She studied Social Psychology at the Autonomous University of Querétaro (UAQ), Mexico and then completed a Master degree in Commercialization of Science and Technology at CIMAV and UT-Austin, USA. She is currently developing a research project about the Converging Technologies Agenda in Mexico. Her particular interest is in the development of empirical studies and improving people’s understanding of social psychology of science. As part of her activities related to this, in the last two years she has been coordinating a psychology of science group (GIPSYCYT) at UAQ.
Dr. Francis Remedios
In 2000, Francis Remedios received his PhD from Higher Institute of Philosophy, Leuven University, Belgium. The title of his dissertation was “A Critical Examination of Steve Fuller’s Social Epistemology.” In 2003, his book: “Legitimizing Scientific Knowledge: An Introduction to Steve Fuller’s Social Epistemology” http://www.lexingtonbooks.com/isbn/0739106678 was published. He has published several papers on social epistemology. He is also on the editorial board of the journal Social Epistemology. His current research is on neoliberalism and its impact on science and the problem of humanity. As an independent scholar, Francis is pleased to be a collective member.
Dr. Verusca Moss Simões dos Reis
Verusca holds a PhD in Philosophy from Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ), a Masters Degree in Philosophy at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and a Degree in Social Sciences (UFRJ).
Her main research field is philosophy of science, especially its relation with sociology of science and science studies. In her PhD thesis, she undertook a critical evaluation of the ethos of science in the new mode of knowledge production. This mainly focussed on the work of the physicist and epistemologist John Michel Ziman as a starting point to understand what has been called “post-academic science” and its consequences for epistemology.
She currently holds a post-doctoral research position at UERJ with a scholarship from the Brazilian funding agency CNPQ (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico). Her current research has two lines of interest: on the one hand, investigating the changing values in academic research systems in what has been defined as “commodification of academic research” (or “post-academic science” in Ziman’s view). She is interested in the relationship between various conceptions of ‘science’ and ‘university’ and what we consider as ‘knowledge.’ On the other hand, she continues her research on Ziman’s work, who thought that the strength of science was its ability to produce public knowledge cooperatively.
She has presented papers in many congresses in Brazil and also abroad. Her full CV can be seen on: http://buscatextual.cnpq.br/buscatextual/visualizacv.do?metodo=apresentar&id=K4768463U6
Adam Riggio is completing his PhD in Philosophy at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, working on several concurrent projects. His thesis research revolves around grounding the more implausible, but most interesting, ideas of environmental ethics in an ontology where movement is understood as affectivity, and all bodies are assemblies of parts and fields of force all the way down. He organizes the multi-disciplinary reading/discussion group “Liberating Matter,” which is building an ethical philosophy tentatively called happy existentialism.
Adam’s interest in social epistemology (both the journal and the sub-discipline) comes from his work tracing the historical development of academic and intellectual disciplines, and understanding the normative habits that keep them separate or bring them together. His planned post-doctoral work focusses on the evolution of North American philosophy in the twentieth century, identifying the institutionalized habits of thinking that have caused its fragmentation into so many sub-disciplines and scenes whose discourses are completely separate from each other. Adam is crazy enough to imagine a discipline called Philosophy that in the twenty-first century welcomes the disciplines from which it has segregated itself over the last hundred years back into its conversation, and thinks that kind of conversation would be the most creative philosophy has been in a long time.
He can be found on twitter: @adamriggio.
Dr. Gregory Sandstrom
Gregory Sandstrom’s education has been in three fields: sociology, economics and philosophy. Undergrad degrees were done in Canada (University of British Columbia & Wilfrid Laurier University), Masters in the Netherlands (Vrije Universitet), and PhD (called Кандидат Социологических Наук) in Russia (St. Petersburg State University/Sociological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences). Most recently, he completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at the Autonomous National University of Mexico in Mexico City at the Institute for Applied Mathematics and Systems working on themes of development and knowlege production.
He first came across Steve Fuller’s work in connection with the evolution and intelligent design ‘controversy,’ which was demonstrated most practically in Fuller’s participation in the Dover, Pennsylvania school board trial, as science studies expert witness for the defense. His research on Fuller’s work includes the new sociological imagination, collaborative science, philosophy and religion discourse and most recently, the provocative notion of Humanity 2.0. Some social epistemology themes Gregory explores are the biological challenge to social science, contrasting ‘red’ and ‘green’ approaches to culture and society, (neo-)Darwinism & other related -isms, the notions of academic freedom and knowledge production in the electronic-information age, and Fuller’s curious notion (2006) of ‘zoocentric misanthropy.’
The major focus of his work since 2003 has been to begin overturning evolutionism-as-ideology in the human-social sciences, moving beyond it with ‘human extension’ as a reflexive contribution in sociology. Gregory recently began his teaching career in Vilnius, Lithuania.